Long-term effects of oxytetracycline exposure in zebrafish: A multi-level perspective


• Zebrafish exposed to oxytetracycline present different feeding behavior pattern.
• Oxytetracycline induced fish boldness and hyperactivity in light periods.
• Energetic reserves and oxidative stress enzymes decrease after long-term exposure.
• Bacterial communities of fish gut and exposure water were affected by oxytetracycline.


Oxytetracycline (OTC) is a broad-spectrum antibiotic widely used in livestock production. Like many other pharmaceuticals, OTC is not completely metabolized by the organism and thus, increasing amounts of the compound are being detected in the aquatic environment. The assessment of the environmental risk of pharmaceuticals is hindered by their very low concentrations and specific modes of action and thus relevant exposure scenarios and sensitive endpoints are needed. Thus, this work aimed to study the long-term effect of OTC exposure in zebrafish (at behavior and biochemical levels) and associated bacterial communities (fish gut and water bacterial communities). Results revealed that at behavioral level, boldness increase (manifested by increased exploratory behavior of a new environment) was observed in fish exposed to low OTC concentrations. Moreover, changes in fish swimming pattern were observed in light periods (increased stress response: hyperactivity and freezing) probably due to photo-sensibility conferred by OTC exposure. Effects at biochemical level suggest that long-term exposure to OTC interfere with cellular energy allocation mainly by reducing lipids levels and increasing energy consumption. Moreover, evidences of oxidative damage were also observed (reduced levels of TG, GST and CAT). The analysis of water and gut microbiome revealed changes in the structure and diversity of bacterial communities potentially leading to changes in communities' biological function. Some of the effects were observed at the lowest concentration tested, 0.1 μg/L which is a concentration already detected in the environment and thus clearly demonstrating the need of a serious ecotoxicological assessment of OTC effects on non-target organisms.


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